The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Win-Win-Win February 2, 2015

Finally got my pantry back again today. Elihu finally gave his belated birthday gifts to Uncle Andrew, Mom and Martha today, plus he Skyped with his sister in England and played some string bass for her as a birthday offering too. Those were all good, winning things. But I suppose the biggest win of all was that of the New England Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks at the 49th Super Bowl.

My kid’s never watched football before tonight, and the whole culture of sports in general has always been something of a mystery to him. (As an achromat, visually tracking a ball is nearly impossible in real life.) He’s wanted to learn more about football in particular these days, as it’s often a topic of conversation among the kids at school. How perfect that we joined the game at the end of the first half, in time to witness two very cool plays – plus of course the half-time spectacle (the Katy Perry medley to which he knew all the words… I mean come on mom, everyone sings this stuff in school…) A winning end to a pretty good day. More adventures (and much more snow too, I hear) to follow…

IMG_0404Playing bass for sister Brigitta, who lives in England. It’s her 12th birthday.

IMG_0410There she is!

IMG_0418I dash across the road to get neighbor Zac’s help with some cleats I need for my new pantry shelves. Between Zac and his dad Phil they’ve got every type of saw one could ever need. Or so it seems to me. I’m sure Zac could point out the deficiency in their collection if pressed…

IMG_0426Hmm, let’s see, there’s ripping, mitering, planing, chopping, jigging (is that a word?) and then plain sawing. I think. Might all of it be correctly called ‘sawing’? Who knows? All I know is that one better watch the fingers. !!

IMG_0431See what I mean?

IMG_0455Back home, lil man picks up the camera and does a little editorializing on my home improvements.

IMG_0457Why did I wait til my 50th to buy myself a nice drill? Friends, don’t wait. If you don’t have an 18 volt cordless drill (preferably with a light at the end, unlike my old-fashioned model) then go out and get one. Today.

IMG_0460He catches me measuring twice, drilling once.

IMG_0463A few minutes later! Hoo-ray!! Thanks to pregnant Stephanie for lending me her handy husband to make these cleats for us – and they’re made from trees harvested from their property too. ! Last night we ate locally grown venison, today we’re using locally grown wood to hold up our shelves. Virtually living off the land, we are. !!

IMG_0466And a few minutes even later! Woo hoo! Been without a pantry for going on three months. Ahh. Life really is about the simple things.

IMG_0472And speaking of simple things, we’re off to the farm now, where Elihu plays for Martha her very favorite song, Simple Gifts, on his new alto recorder. (Her birthday is in July, so this gift is either very late or very early.)

Elihu plays Simple Gifts for Martha.

IMG_0494Elihu presents grandma with a pastel of a landscape. I mistook it for recycling afterwards and folded it – after weeks of delicate handling. I could weep. Thankfully, Elihu and grandma were upbeat about pressing it flat again under some glass. Argh.)

IMG_0514Elihu gives Uncle Andrew a high quality, entry-level rc helicopter with money he’s been saving. He’s been wanting to see his very depressed uncle happy for ages and put a lot of thought into the perfect gift. (Andrew’s birthday was on New Year’s Eve.) I myself can’t remember the last time I saw my brother smile. Success!

IMG_0516Seems a bit unfair that the ladies here seated are tipping back their bourbons in the presence of a not-so-dry alcoholic who’s trying his best to maintain. Ah well. Such is the ever-present dysfunction and denial of my family.

IMG_0481I’ve known this kitchen since I was tiny. It’s more cluttered, yes, but it’s still just as familiar. It still really does feel in my heart like the true epicenter of my life. Always has – no matter where I’ve lived or traveled, this kitchen ultimately feels like true center. Where everything begins and then one day returns.

IMG_0596I was ready for bed after our visit to the farm, but the game was too compelling.

IMG_0566Gotta turn off the kitchen lights – even after adjusting the tv’s brightness levels, it’s still too much light. He takes it in stride, but I’m always mildly saddened by the light-sensitive state in which Elihu lives. Wish it were easier for him.

IMG_0561Holy crap! This game is getting intense!!

IMG_0583The Patriots are down by four and I don’t think they can possibly win any longer, but lil man still does.

IMG_0595I was wrong – things turned! It’s pretty much a done deal here, but nonetheless, here we go…

IMG_0608New England Patriots win Super Bowl XLIV!

IMG_0597One happy dance for a winning day well-ended, and then it’s off to bed…

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Post Script: Another win: Snow day! Letting the lil man sleep in, and gonna get into bed with a book within minutes… Score!

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November Pics November 22, 2014

Life’s been so full lately that I haven’t had time to archive my recent photos – plus my computer’s been in and out of the shop for weeks now, making a life sans-smart phone a tedious one indeed at times. I’ve had to visit the library a time or two to check my email. Makes me feel a bit like a vagrant, but I suppose it’s a good thing to be humbled every now and then. (Certainly helps me better appreciate the luxuries of a laptop and my favorite cozy chair.)

The changes all around us are imperceptible in the moment, but when I compare the images of this November with those from a year ago, my heart skips a beat to know how different things are now. For one, my father is gone. And now there’s a house at the end of our driveway, its windows staring straight into ours where there used to be nothing but a gentle field. We no longer have a goose guarding our home, and some favorite hens from our flock are gone. My son now plays string bass with some proficiency, and has finally experienced the freedom that tinted contacts offer. Plus, the kid is taller than last year for sure. (He’s still the shortest in his class, but hey, it’s all relative.)

Last night Elihu’s school had their fall assembly, in which each of the grades, from 1 through 12, performed. It lasted but an hour (that alone impresses me – the faculty has engineered the logistics beautifully) and it gave us all the things one expects in such a program. It had parents feeling proud, in love, in awe, and once again, in disbelief at how our children have grown so. Truly, it seems only yesterday that my dear Elihu sang in his first grade concert… And the other children, I watch them in amazement too, trying to understand this mysterious growing process that shows itself only in brief, acute moments. It’s a good thing that most of life’s big changes don’t happen all at once; myself, I like to have time in which to take things in, to figure out where things stand in the present, so I can move more mindfully into the future. But no matter how thoughtfully one approaches life, sometimes there is just no substitute for the perspective one gets in looking back.

And with that, I offer this rather lengthy pictorial retrospective on our month thus far…

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 Elihu brought his bass to the farm and played for Martha her favorite song, Simple Gifts.

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The farm’s kitchen, the epicenter of my life since I was tiny. That’s mom on the left.

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Mom helps fix Martha’s supper. This image has me pondering the plight of aging; my mother, whose own age is beginning to lessen her physical abilities, is the caretaker for Martha. Interesting the hazy lines between old and really old. Both of these women were superior take-charge gals ‘in their day’. Martha still, however, rules the roost, giving mom step-by-step instructions on how every last duty is to be carried out. Sheesh. Watching these two, dare I say, ‘control freaks’ in their late-in-life interactions is a good lesson for me: it is good to know how to delegate, but more important to let people help you on their own terms. Trust, I believe, is at the heart of the lesson. It’s hard to relinquish control, I get that. But aging kinda forces it on you. Best to be ready.

IMG_1383A quick smooch with Masie before we head out.

IMG_1465Our first dusting of snow. Beautiful, yes, but we’re not quite ready. Elihu hit his forehead and yelped ‘already?’ when he saw this. I swear he was close to crying. He’s not a cold weather kid. In fact, for some unknown reason, since he was very little he’s been telling me that he wants to live in Vietnam one day. ?? I love him more than anything in the world, but I don’t think I’ll be moving along with him. Naw. I’ll be in Italy.

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Good weather for indoor tower-building.

IMG_1498The tallest one yet.

IMG_1188The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs in the evening, such a cozy sight. Had a parent’s meeting, and thankfully, my son is now old enough that leaving him for an hour or so is possible. Hope when I get home he’s ready for bed…

IMG_1296When going in to say goodnight, I found a poem on Elihu’s desk. Turns out when he can’t sleep (which is every night, just like his ma), he writes poems in his head, then gets up to write them down before he sleeps. Has a bunch of them apparently. !

IMG_1327Downtown there’s a makeshift memorial on Broadway for Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie. The day after he died I posted the photos and obit on the lamppost – within hours people had added balloons, flowers and candles as well as assorted trinkets, including cigarettes, banjo picks and a fireman’s hat.

IMG_1180The look of town has changed rapidly over the past decade, but local folks will recognize these three Saratoga homes, untouched by progress. Seriously, they looked the same in the late 1960s as they do in this 2014 photo. Feeling as I do about change, I relish this image.

IMG_1144We’re giving our young Buff Orpington rooster away to a new home soon, so he’s enjoying a final visit to the kitchen.

IMG_1137Goodbye, handsome fella! (The bird, that is.)

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Nice to see this Red Bellied Woodpecker again this year (a confusing name when it’s really its head that’s noticeably red). Took this from across the room as he’d spook if I got close.

IMG_1417Today we’re going to visit our old goose, Maximus at his new home across town (we’re also giving them the rooster seen above). This is a special morning, so it requires a special breakfast. I surprised Elihu with a pancake in the form of his signature cartoon character, Stanley the Tree Sparrow.

IMG_1436We’re at the gate – and can hardly wait!

IMG_1438I stood and watched in amazement. The flock was free to escape this bird-crazy boy, yet somehow, Maximus did not flee. In fact, he allowed Elihu to get close…IMG_1441!!!!

IMG_1448“Family” selfie. Miss this guy. It’s such a good feeling to smooch a goose. Elihu and I can smooch a chicken and eat a chicken too – the same one, in fact – but we both agree that goose is off the menu for us both now. It just feels different.

IMG_1454They go for one last run before we leave. Max is happy here; he has a pond, lots of open acres in which to roam (note the yak in the background!) and finally, Max has a girlfriend. He has a great life here, so that makes us happy too.

IMG_1459And a final smooch…. for now. See you again, Maximus!

IMG_1508Back at the Hillhouse, giving some love to the king of the roost – and our only resident rooster now – Bald Mountain.

IMG_1151Eyes wide open (indoors, with no lights on), showing me what ‘perfect hair’ looks like. Right on.

IMG_1533Okay, seeing Maximus was special. But this is in a whole new realm of special. These babies ($600 after all was said and done if you can f*ing believe it – they’re just goddam soft contacts!!) are about to change Elihu’s life…

IMG_1284An ordinary picture, right? Look again – this is Elihu, eyes wide open, outside, WITHOUT his dark red sunglasses!! This moment, humble and ordinary as it may appear, is no such thing.

IMG_1189Elihu, about to join his classmates at school for the very first time without dark glasses, is overcome with emotion. I thought I was taking a picture of a smiling child, when he began to sob. You can see the feeling beginning to dawn on him in this image…

IMG_1193He joins his friends on the foursquare court and waits for someone to notice…

IMG_1197Yes!!!

IMG_1216He’s still squinting a bit (he’ll need some supplemental dark glasses for outdoors), but finally Elihu can open his eyes outdoors. Whew!!

IMG_1224I take a quick peek into his classroom to make sure things with the contacts are still ok…

IMG_1242Elihu wants to visit the music store after school with his new contacts in…

IMG_1254We love the use of glockenspiel in some of our favorite polkas. I wouldn’t mind a set of these myself, even if I have no current use for them…

IMG_1263We love this place. I try to make sure he’s not the annoying kid… but he enjoys trying things out for a spin. It is a great opportunity to get an understanding about how different instruments – and different setups – can feel.

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Singing his heart out. He’s been looking forward to this performance for weeks. And again, no dark glasses. A new world for him. Can’t help but think back on his first grade concert… He sang his heart out then, too.

IMG_1511The sixth grade does a eurythmy performance. Eurythmy is the art of sound made visible, and is an important part of Waldorf education. (That’s my little eurythmyst on the far left. He was so psyched to finally be doing his performance in costume.)

IMG_1513And this is Elihu, ending the number and leaving the stage with a flourish.

This act is over, and now a new one begins…

 

Golden Touch April 7, 2014

We’ve been crazy-busy lately, but in spite of that, we both have enjoyed something of a golden touch this past week, starting, of course, with Elihu’s wonderful performances as King Midas in his class’s annual play. (Many times he made sure I knew its true title was The Masque of Midas, with a ‘q’ and not a k.) I cannot relate to you how robust a performance he gave, how clear were his lines, how his understanding of their meaning (in spite of the flowery, archaic language) translated so easily through his speech and gesture… His voice was as crisp, bold and commanding as was his character; his body moved so much like royalty too… I personally loved the part where he admits the fickle nature of humans, and concedes how quickly we forget the small miracles of the everyday. As he eats a grape (which previously his spell prevented him from tasting) he admits that in spite of the lesson he’s learned through having – and then losing – his golden touch, even now the precious fruit was losing its ‘ambrosial taste’. And beyond that, Midas expected that in very little time he would revert to his old ways and completely forget the lessons he had only just learned… I loved the way Midas – and Elihu too, in his understanding and appreciation for the meaning of his lines – had the clarity to recognize that through his human ways he would likely in the end lose the ability to recognize the true value in the everyday. This was a kid who got it, and who conveyed it. The whole cast was wonderful, and many children were able to play their instruments in the production, everyone of the children sang beautifully, and a handful of them enjoyed playing some very animated and funny scenes. The play was a beautiful ensemble piece that will live long in the memories of these children, their beloved teacher, and all their proud friends and family who were there to share in the experience.

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Please forgive – or overlook – the donkey ears. They come out at the end, and we forgot to stash em for the photos.

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A fitting instrument for the king to play, I think.

Things weren’t entirely golden at the start, but we persevered, looking for that unanticipated golden ending… Had a coupla goodnews/badnews scenes of our own play out this past week. Elihu’s bass broke. I went to tune it for one of his plays, and the strings just weren’t responding. I took a closer look at the tuners, and glad my attention was there, for I saw the giant headstock just fall over forward. I caught it, thankfully, so no more damage was done. And the break itself wasn’t a clean one. Worth a look-see at the shop, but deep-down I kinda knew Elihu’s days with this instrument were over. Sad, I thought. My father had seen him first play on it. He’d learned a lot on it – we’d enjoyed making some good music together with it. But then I caught myself, and reminded myself not to get too sentimental. There will be many basses yet to come as he grows. This is a rental, and only a quarter size at that. But still. It was his first. We prepared for a good month without an instrument when good old Ed called from the shop and told us he had a new one in for us. Huh? Really? That only took like a day! Here’s the good news/bad news part. The endpin just wouldn’t come out. Had to be pounded back in when we did finally pull it out with some pliers. Nope. Wouldn’t cut it. Besides, the action felt bad, and I think it sounded like a box. We really had lucked out with that first instrument. (Glad we took down the maker’s name… may try finding him again.) This generic rental was made in Romania, and while we’re pretty sure some fine polkas likely come from this country, this instrument itself was sure not serving as the country’s best calling card. Elihu saw far more promise in his new discovery of a Bajnolele as we awaited the fate of this new rental… Last visit he had his first sit-down with a mandolin, and now this…. Perhaps his problems with these basses was helping to open doors to new adventures… Elihu’s eleventh birthday is in three weeks… He may have another instrument (or two) in his bag of tricks by then…

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Ed ascertains that there’ll be no easy fix here. Time for a new rental. Too bad, this one sounded and played great.

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So in the meantime, Elihu picks up a mandolin. Hey, they’re strung just like violins. Hey, Elihu can play a violin…


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Ed really helped us by getting a new rental in ASAP, only the silly end pin’s stuck. That’s ok, the thing sounded like a box anyhow. Hope the next one sounds and feels better than this. He’ll use his upright electric tomorrow in orchestra – that’ll be kind of a new adventure. Make him a rock star at school, too.!

IMG_1432While Ed tried to work on the bass, Elihu discovered a Banjolele – and now it’s Mama who knows the tuning here and can show lil man a couple tricks. Wow, this thing is fun! Hmm… this might be a lot of fun to add to the collection….

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The culture of fifth grade boys: a renaissance of Pokemon

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Thankfully jamming holds some solid interest. Drums, Wurlitzer, Melodica and Clarinet. !!

Yes, we’ve had some golden moments in the past few days; the class play, the trying out of a couple new instruments (and getting along with em just fine), a couple of long play dates with his two buddies, one of which was outdoors in the new warmth of Spring (and which also included some making of music, video gaming, Pokemon trading, trampoline hopping, woods exploring, plane flying and chicken chasing). Then there was the day we’d waited for for a long time now. We went to visit an old family member. We went to see (with our breath held and hopes not too high) our beloved goose Maximus in his new home. We’ve been told he’d keen on a certain gal, and that he’s found his place in the large flock. That we even saw him at all was a bit of a surprise to us. We’d come expecting the worst – we’d thought he’d likely be deeply embedded in his flock, that he’d turn and run the other way, aloof, wild, anything but how we’d once known him. Thankfully, he was close by when we arrived, and in spite of Elihu’s advances and Max’s slight protests, in very short order Max had allowed Elihu to pick him up. How our hearts warmed! And I got to hold my beloved Max’s sweet head in my hands and kiss his cheeks and head as I had always done. I swear that bird recognized us in his heart. I swear he knew it was us. That we were there – not just any crazy humans trying to pick him up and smooch him – but us, his first family. Elihu spent some alone time with Max, talking to him. Saying things I didn’t need to ask him about – as they were between a boy and his bird.

The folks who took Max in have taken other sad creatures in to live with them. They’re angels who are giving a handful of God’s creatures a better experience on this planet. Good people, good work they do. And we’re eternally grateful that they were able to give our Max a wonderful, full-goose life here on their side of the mountain. My goodness, they even have a pond! Heaven on earth! I think of that tiny pond I’d made here last summer – and remember Maximus doing his ‘up tails all’ move in that tiny triangle of water… Such joy he radiated, and yet in such tiny confines. Can you imagine the goose-joy he’ll feel when finally in a real pond for the very first time? We hope that we can be there to witness it… we hear that when they pull that winter fencing back and open the pond to all the critters of the farm for the first time each Spring – it’s a BIG deal  – an event of sorts. The birds all know and wait at the edge…. Like patrons at a concert waiting to stake out their spot on the lawn… The geese all hang about, nearly frantic to get on that glorious water… The fence goes back and the geese go forth…. A golden moment for sure.

 

IMG_1434Now it’s off to visit Maximus in his new home

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Elihu spotted him right away.

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And had him in his arms just about within seconds.

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After an ‘enforced’ smooching (I got to kiss him too), Max regards us from a distance.

Probably the very most important thing we did this weekend was to stock our incubator. These twenty-four eggs are worth their weight in gold to us… Each year we put them in the machine such that they’ll hatch out the day of Elihu’s birthday party. I can hardly believe it, but this will be our fifth year doing it. It has truly become a tradition on his birthday. What a lovely way to remember his childhood birthdays, too… We were given eggs from our friends at Elihu Farm (I know, right?) and also from Max’s new family. We added some of our own, and between all three sources hope for a good hatch out in twenty-one days. Ya never know. The sound of the small, table-top incubator clicking along, day and night is for us a sound of Spring. From within those tiny machine noises comes a certain kind of hope, of excitement for the future. It gives us a refreshed sense of happiness and possibility…. So much potential, so much unknown…. such a metaphor for life itself.

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Mary Pratt of Elihu Farm. She kindly gave us some (hopefully) fertile eggs to raise up a new flock.

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 Here they are today going into the incubator. They’ll hatch in 21 days.

Ah, such a hopeful time of year. Snow still lingers, but each day there’s less and less of the stuff. Just today Elihu and I both heard some Redwing blackbirds (haven’t seen one yet – that will have me pulling over to the side of the road for sure). This morning the air was absolutely filled with the sounds of nearly a dozen new arrivals – all of whom were heard for the first time today! It’s as if some threshold has been crossed now. How do they do it? we shake our heads in wonder each year, but more unimaginable still is that they all seem to arrive at once. We don’t even try to understand. In this world of 24/7 illumination and patches of untouched nature so few and far between, it breaks our hearts to attempt to comprehend their task. So all we can do is revel in their return and let them know how much we love them, how glad we are to see them. “They really are like family, aren’t they?” Elihu asks me each year as we lean on our elbows and watch the visitors on our platform feeder. “Yes, they are”, I always answer.

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Elihu has loved and consulted his audio bird books for half his life now. They come out again this time of year.

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One of our many daily visitors

IMG_1399My mother hates these sneaky cowbirds, but hey, they can’t help how they’re engineered….

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 The most precious gold of all in our world is the brand-new Spring plumage on our little goldfinch friends…

 

Goose Gone February 3, 2014

This morning will be our first day in half of our time here at the Hillhouse without a resident goose. It’s already been a sad enough time for us, and this is adding to the emotional toll. But in spite of the tears I watched my son cry in the rear view mirror as we left Maximus at his new, beautiful home, I know that things will be ok. Maybe even better. At least that’s what we hope.

Because lately, things had gotten worse. Perhaps because of plain old cabin fever, or perhaps driven by an ancient imprint on his being that made him vent his unexpressed urge to procreate in other, more violent ways, or some other unknown issue, whatever reason was to blame, Max had killed four hens over the past week and had very nearly killed our one resident rooster. That last one was a bizarre and bloody incident, and I knew at that point we’d turned a corner. I did have the means to separate them – either keep the recuperating rooster on his own in the small brooding pen, or confine Maximus to the same small space, but neither was appealing, as it represented another chore to do each and every morning, each and every night. I need all my birds in one place, and I need ease of maintenance. And I will not tolerate violent behavior. If I were retired and had no job but to tend to my flock and home, it might be acceptable. But at this time in our lives, I can’t stop to settle disputes like this. Change was imperative.

Both Elihu and I forgive our beloved goose for his actions, because we know that he was simply acting as he was programmed to. He’s a goose, yes, and he has diligently guarded our property against strangers and unknown vehicles as well as an assortment of predators, but he’s had a softer side too. And since Elihu and I personally knew him in this quiet, tender way, it’s been a bit harder on us. Most folks have little sympathy for Max anymore. My mother especially, who for the past few months has used the most venomous tone when suggesting we get rid of him (or a bit more light-heartedly implied he might end up on a platter). Piano students must pull in close to the house, brooms are left leaning against trees to be picked up as tools of defense, people call ahead when they visit, and the UPS guy just drops the box by the garage and splits. Yeah, it had become a drag to have a guard goose. It wasn’t always thus; my theory is that when he was biologically speaking still a gosling, he was rather charming. He was never threatening, in fact he lived up to his breed’s reputation of being good with kids and people in general. But I believe things turned a corner last year when a certain spark lit within him and he became a young gander.

It first started one day as I was squatting down at the hose to fill a five gallon bucket. The container was white, about Max’s size, and I too, appeared close to the ground. Something in him clicked, and he began honking as he beat his great, six foot wings and ran down the hill from the coop to join me. But rather than stop short to watch as he had so many times before, this time he made a clumsy attempt to mount me, scooting me encouragingly beneath him with his long neck, clearly hoping I’d acquiesse in some cooperative sort of posture. In the moment I didn’t get it, and actually thought he might be attacking me, but he did not hurt me. He nibbled at me gently, but didn’t bite. He cupped his wings around me, but didn’t hit me with them. I was a bit flustered, so I stood up, and instantly he came to, as is he’d been overtaken by some strange force and was now embarrassed and self-conscious of himself. I stood back and watched as the mysterious behavior came over him once more, and he began a second, unsuccessful attempt to get busy with the bucket. First he tried to get on top of it. The bucket fell over and he seemed encouraged. He tried again, but was flustered at the way it rolled out from underneath him. Then he took another tack, and tried to enter the bucket, head first, but found there was no room, and clearly no satisfying end to this choice either. Poor Max. Poor, dear, sexually mature Maximus. He was being just as he was born to be, and there was no natural outlet to his deep, innate desires. Oh dear. I even wondered if I might surrender myself to him just once; crouch down again and give him some feeling of success as he did his best… Flashes of Swan Lake came to me – the strange morphing of a lover into a swan, the strange netherworld of a horrible manbeast – and I quickly dismissed the idea. No, this poor guy was on his own. And we knew if we’d gotten him a mate that it would likely throw off the relationship we two had with him. It’d be him and his gal against us. He’d defend her, and we’d be on the same end as the UPS guy.

After keeping the convalescing rooster in our kitchen for a week – and then our adjacent mudroom as the sour stink of chicken grew – I found I’d reached the end. The nightmare of the Studio’s new situation had just been discovered, and I suppose it was that which tipped the scales. I had too much to do, and if I might have justified a more labor-intensive solution to the bird problem before, I sure wasn’t about to now. I made up my mind that we had to find a new – and good – home for Max. I was resolute, and it was fixed in my heart. On Saturday a tiny voice told me that we should drop in on our neighbors (the ones with the old model T) and pay a visit. I had nothing in my mind about Max specifically, but of course he came up in conversation. They suggested a family in the hills that might very likely take him. I held no high hopes, but imagine my surprise when I dialed the number upon returning home that day, and before I could even offer my backstory, the gal on the other end simply said “I’ll take him”. I’d heard they were not only softies for animals, but that they were good to their animals. The two don’t always go together. I was beside myself with joy, and shared the earpiece of the phone with Elihu as she began to tell me about her pond, the fields, the way she had things set up…. Elihu covered his mouth to stop from squealing with joy. We made arrangements to come by with Maximus the following day. Wow. Ask and ye shall receive.

It’s one thing that we found Max a new home, it’s another that we have visiting rights, it’s still another that they’ll likely continue to call him by his name, but for me the crowning discovery in all of this is that Maximus now lives on a farm that I’ve admired since I was little. When I first got my driver’s license and was free to re-discover all those hidden-away places that my parents were always whizzing past, this was one of the places I came to. Many a time have I put on my flashers and pulled to the side of the road just to stop and gaze at this lovely farmstead. Nestled in the shelter of wooded hills, its open fields undulate up gently to meet the forest, there’s even a two acre pond behind the large farmhouse…. I cannot possibly imagine a more perfect home for our beloved fellow. He’s the only breed of his kind, he’s white and stands taller than them all, so we will easily be able to pick him out when we spot the flock dabbling in the low, swampy patches of the field.

When we dropped him off, the husband and wife owners took us on a short, circular walk around their outbuildings to see the other critters; pygmy goats, a strange, miniature donkey (named Brea – and man, what a sound she makes. Yeeks.) a sheep and some fine looking chickens. In the pasture across the way were a shaggy bull and cow, each with longhorns the likes of which I’d never seen but in images of far-off places. They too were miniature. Was there a horse? I seem to think there was… it was really a lot to take in for a first-time visitor. Above our heads a flock of some twenty or so pigeons wheeled in the sky… this place was heaven. As we walked, Max walked with us, tipping his head every so often to take in a new sight, stopping to listen to the whereabouts of the resident flock of geese. They were loud and rather raspy-sounding, and every now and then Maximus would himself honk, and we both noticed that his tone sounded so much richer and deeper. He was more beautiful than the others, we thought, and now we could hear that he was much more sonorous a goose, too. We were proud, and perhaps just a bit sadder still at having now compared our baby to these strangers. Eventually our visit came to a close, we got into the car and left Max, a bit confused, behind. He talked to us as we drove away, running beside the car as he’d done so very many times before, walking us to the gate where his new mama was waiting to let us out. That’s when Elihu started to cry. In this moment, this bird was still our Maxie, he was still engaging with us as he always had, he still knew us. We both knew in our hearts that the next time we came to see him, he very likely would not.

After Elihu’s tears finally stopped and he’d had a moment to just sit in silence and thought, he told me from the back seat on the drive home “Mommy, that’s the kind of farm I want when I grow up. That kind of farm.” I agreed with him quietly. There was nothing to say now. We knew we’d done the right thing. In fact, we knew we’d given Maximus a far better life in this new place than we were ever able to give him. We knew all of this. But still, the sadness in the car was heavy. Coming home was strange. For years we’d been greeted by that familiar head atop that long, graceful neck, the curious tilt of his head, the peering of that eye, the initial assessment; stranger or family? Family. Max would walk alongside the car, then meander off to do his thing. Shortly after we’d go inside, he might follow us up the back steps and just sit down outside the door, as if wanting simply to be near us. In warmer months, an open kitchen door almost always meant a goose in the kitchen before too long. But a house is no place for a goose. And we’re no substitute for a family of his own kind.

Last night, as we lay down to bed, we looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of Elihu’s bedroom and wondered how our beloved Max was, right now. We had learned that the geese there slept outside – rain, snow or shine, no matter. A far cry from the treatment he got here – heat lamp on cold nights, the kitchen on really cold ones. Would he be ok? Would there be a lot of fighting as he sorted it all out with the other ganders? We realized that Max had never even seen another goose until that day. He’d only ever lived with chickens or people. We guessed by now he knew he was a goose. We prayed that he was able to nestle in with the flock to share in the warmth. We prayed that he’d get enough sleep on this first night. It took Elihu himself over an hour to finally drop off. I too had some trouble sleeping, and somehow felt our homestead to be missing something on this first night. I took a last look at our coop, now goose-less, and sighed. Our lives were changing in so many ways, and I had to go with it. I reminded myself once again that while change is sad, there are new, joyful things yet to come into our lives. Change makes way for the new.

And we here at the Hillhouse are getting ourselves ready for a whole lot of new things to come…

January late 2014 020Our beloved ‘snow goose’, Maximus. He finds the sweet spots where he can graze, mid-winter.

(He is in actuality a “Lavender Ice” which is, as we understand, the newest registered breed in North America. The breed is supposed to be friendlier than other domestic geese, and good with kids and pets. Our experience tells us this is partly so, but in the end, he is still a goose. And geese are tough birds.)

January late 2014 050On his way back up the hill to the coop.

January late 2014 070In the coop with his very best bird-friend, male Guinea fowl, Austin (lowest rung to the right)

January late 2014 080Mama enjoys a final moment with Max.

January late 2014 082That lovely face.

January late 2014 120Elihu feeds Maximus his second favorite treat – he loves frozen peas best.

January late 2014 115Maximus waits around for more, even when Elihu’s gone back inside.

January late 2014 139

The kiss goodbye.

A very sad time for Elihu and me both. We hope Maximus goes on to enjoy the best life a goose could ever know.  That’ll make it a little easier to adjust to a goose-free life here at the Hillhouse.

 

County Fair August 30, 2013

It’s week-old news by now, but it’s still news-worthy in our world. Two of the finest summer days yet. Elihu and I spend eight hours each visit, and we still didn’t manage to do all the things we would have liked. The whole experience was nothing short of magical. My son surprised both of us when he ventured onto rides I’d thought far too daring for him – and I surprised both of us by finding the favorite rides of my youth just a bit beyond my comfort level these days. We ate fair food, visited the animals, the craft tents, went on the rides, played a game on the midway (and won!) and ran into old friends. The sun shone bright, the breeze kept us just cool enough. There will be plenty of summer excursions we may not remember, but it’s likely we won’t ever forget this year’s trip to the Washington County Fair. (There are no chicken pics here; they will get special treatment in their own poultry post shortly.)

county fair and cleanout 2013 497Hugging a gigantic cow is a great way to start the day.

county fair and cleanout 2013 489Didn’t get to see the draft horses, except for the enormous rear end of this gal. Just too much to see.

County Fair 2013 008There’s a chainsaw artist doing his thing…

County Fair 2013 001What a beautiful bird he’s made!

county fair and cleanout 2013 727Next you got your standard sheep shearing…

county fair and cleanout 2013 726And I guess this is the style that freshly-shorn sheep sport these days to keep away the chill. !

County Fair 2013 359Elihu gets a little demonstration on how wool is turned into yarn.

County Fair 2013 355Then it’s the goat line up. They’re cute, yes, but not really our thing.

County Fair 2013 236Elihu loved the cows. Gentle giants.

County Fair 2013 203It was nice to meet some other animal-loving kids.

County Fair 2013 227Elihu meets a cute girl and an award-winning cow. !

County Fair 2013 220They watch the milking. Love that everyone was so laid back about the kids hanging out there.

County Fair 2013 210Aside from the birds, Elihu spend a lot of time just hanging with the cows.

County Fair 2013 160Total shop talk. Crazy cow sub-culture. !

county fair and cleanout 2013 805We visit Paul H. Van Arnum and his wife, Betsy. Known him since I was four. His daughter Sherry and I have been friends since then. (She was matron of honor at my wedding.) Paul was once a tree man and is now widely known for his greenhouses and his lava rock sculptures. Here he’s explaining a bit of his technique to Elihu. We love Paul. No one like him.

county fair and cleanout 2013 773He sells these little critters to adorn your potted plants.

county fair and cleanout 2013 789But why assemble your own when Paul’s done the work? Tiny vignettes are his thing.

county fair and cleanout 2013 794Pure Paul.

county fair and cleanout 2013 811Like an HO train set scene.

county fair and cleanout 2013 808Bye, Paul! Thanks for all your work! Hope you sell a lot before the fair closes (so you don’t have to pack em all up again!)

County Fair 2013 098We’re gonna do some rides now…

County Fair 2013 092But wait – Look! It’s pal Keithie! How cool that we ran into him.

County Fair 2013 076Elihu is on the right. This is about as crazy a ride as Keith will go on. We find that ironic – in that it was rather tame as rides go, and Keith is talented and gutsy when it comes to riding motorcycles. He’ll jump anything, try any stunt. But he’s a big ol wimp when it comes to carnival rides. Go figure.

County Fair 2013 108We both really like this one. Feels like you’re flying…

County Fair 2013 118And of course this one’s simple and fun. That’s my boy on the right.

County Fair 2013 047Whew.

County Fair 2013 049

This is a much, much taller version of the swing ride above. Elihu insisted I challenge myself and ride it (it’s called ‘Vertigo’). No longer can I enjoy the circular rides like this; while it looks easy enough, my inner ear can’t seem to deal with it. If I’d kept my eyes open I mighta lost my lunch. I took the quickest peek at the view. Sorry I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the ride.

county fair and cleanout 2013 848The must-ride classic.

county fair and cleanout 2013 833One of the views near the top…

county fair and cleanout 2013 846…And another view from the other side. I must admit, after years of living panic attack-free, they began to suggest a comeback when we stayed suspended at the top for a few seconds. I knew I was perfectly safe, but panic has nothing to do with what you know. It’s irrational and can sometimes simply ruin an experience for no apparent reason. Ich. Still enjoyed the ride though.

county fair and cleanout 2013 876Always enjoy this ride. Plus my dad’s name is Bob, so it makes me chuckle to myself.

County Fair 2013 301The Hansen’s family act of juggling and high wire stunts.

County Fair 2013 311

Mom helps eldest daughter of three onto the ring. Although she had that professional smile plastered on her face throughout her daughter’s routine, I couldn’t help but wonder how she was really feeling inside.

County Fair 2013 307This girls is Elihu’s age… wow

County Fair 2013 327And now her mother…

County Fair 2013 323Upside down, essentially hanging on by her butt. !!

County Fair 2013 338Getting momentum up for this heart stopping moment…

County Fair 2013 342Never has Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ been so forgiven for its over-use; for this is exactly what this woman did – she jumped forward and landed in ropes around her ankles – with NO safety harness, and NO net below. Unfucking real. She is another kind of human being the likes of which absolutely mystifies me. Plus she’s had three kids. And she’s beautiful. Huh?

County Fair 2013 347The Hansens concluding their act. Then they pack the whole shebang up themselves, and head off in their RV to the next show. Plus the mom home schools the kids while they’re on the road. Props to this hard-working family.

County Fair 2013 371I was very surprised – and impressed – when Elihu insisted he go on this ride. Alone. He LOVED it. He’s the lone rider under the flag.

County Fair 2013 383My baby’s little feet are wearing white socks, second from the left. The floor has dropped out. Oh dear.

County Fair 2013 380

And now he’s being spun while being swung upside down. This one’s called ‘The Wild Claw’. All I can think is ‘my baby’s on that thing. My baby…’

County Fair 2013 405Time to settle our stomachs the American way.

county fair and cleanout 2013 925I told him to resist, but since the prize involves a living creature, he just can’t…

county fair and cleanout 2013 922Signature Elihu pitch…

county fair and cleanout 2013 929And the legally blind kid actually wins a goldfish! In his own words: “I can’t believe I won it fair and square!”. Me neither. (The fish, which he named ‘Sinbad’, now lives happily in our pond with four fishy companions.)

County Fair 2013 440Now it’s time to join the crowds in the grandstand for the….

County Fair 2013 419Tractor pull!

County Fair 2013 457Personally, we prefer steam traction engine shows, but this is a close second.

County Fair 2013 495

On the way out we notice our tiny hamlet is represented in the ‘antique farm tractors’ exhibit.

County Fair 2013 502Good-bye and good night to the lights of the Washington County Fair! See you next year…

 

Quandary June 22, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 11:57 am
Tags: , , ,

So, let’s say you’ve thrown out your back. And this time it’s really bad. You can hardly get out of bed, you can’t walk but instead must crawl across the room on all fours. You certainly can’t get in your car and drive. What do you do? Your kid can only eat nutella and toast so many times. At some point you’re going to have to feed him some real food. But you can’t. What do you do? I know – you call your doctor. Right?

Ok, you could do that. But see, your doc only sees you once a year for your annual pap, and what with her hundreds of other patients, she hardly even knows let alone remembers you. You think to yourself that you maybe should have left her your CD as a calling card last time. Might have helped you stand out. But you didn’t, and she doesn’t know who you are. Besides she’s completely booked up. And anyway, she can’t prescribe anything for you unless you come in. Plus it’s a half hour drive to her office. Aah! I can’t possibly do that! I can’t even imagine getting into the friggin car! But oh well. Can’t help ya, the nurse says in so many words. Then she tells me to take ibuprofen and try an ice pack. Ok. Thanks.

It occurs to me that if I could get into the car and make my way down the twisting hill road, I could visit the local emergency room. I don’t know the financial ramifications of that, and it makes me nervous. Don’t want to risk it (however, I’ve yet to file for bankruptcy and might be able to throw that bill in with the rest…?) so I think I’ll just see what the ice does. We’re not an ice-loving household, so I have none. I might have a pound of frozen raspberries…

This sucks. I’m trying to find the lesson here. Learn to delegate? Ask for help? Take on less? Argh. I don’t know. I give myself a couple of affirmations – I am supported, I have all I need – and while yes, I do trust in those things, it kinda seems irrelevant to me right now. I need to get Elihu’s tuition assistance form turned in for Waldorf. I need to get a hose down to the garden asap. I need to go food shopping. I need to pay a stupid parking ticket in person downtown – by today or else it goes up. But I can’t do any of it! I can’t even keep my kid company. Even creating this post and sending a couple of emails has become too much.

Maybe that’s it. I’m just doing too much. I don’t know. But hey – can’t we pretty much agree that if ‘Mama don’t do it it don’t get done’? Not much this mama can do for the moment. Guess I’ll throw in the towel and try and get myself back in bed with a pound of frozen fruit. What else can I do? Not much for now…

 

Sweat Equity June 15, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life — wingmother @ 9:57 am
Tags: , ,

After waiting and waiting for some magical sum of money to find me in order to do some much-needed tasks around our homestead – and realizing that it simply wasn’t going to appear from nowhere, I set out, full of purpose and ambition to git her done with what I had or could glean from the land. As it were.

What seemed an incredibly daunting project came slowly to fruition as I plodded forward, one task at a time. Get the kid in the car. Get to Home Depot. Get fence posts (they cost what I made in lessons this week – so far, so good.) Get home (after feeding pigeons and taking an rc helicopter break – oh, and then lunch…) and finally set to work. The goal? Create a larger run for my expanding flock. One that will finally keep the goose and the roosters contained so that I don’t have to personally escort my piano students into the house for their own safety. A run that will keep my hens happy and healthy and prevent me from accidentally stepping in piles of poop every time I step out of my kitchen door. A much needed improvement. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I had a variety of handymen and fence guys over to give me bids. The highest was $3,800! Can you imagine? Sheesh. Guess I thought I’d present the project to my good old mom for underwriting. Couldn’t bring myself to. Glad I didn’t.

Yesterday was a long, hard day. But after a good eight hours of hard labor, I now have an expanded run, complete with gate and even flower boxes under the coop windows. Lovely and functional and a source of great DIY pride. I must credit my generous neighbors for donating the chicken wire, which relieved me of a good $200 purchase. As I’d loaded up the second-hand roll of wire into my car, I still didn’t believe I would transform it into anything useful. I truly doubted my abilities to deal with the mess of wire with any success. But aha! I have! Invigorated with what I accomplished, I have also now begun other little fixes. The door that won’t close. Done. The nesting boxes that are coming apart. Done. And after having used my chop saw once again I can feel my blood boiling with the possibilities of added improvements…

I was utterly exhausted last night, yet ironically find it hard to sleep in this morning for all the things I’ve yet to do. My goal is to simply “de-sketchify” my place. Make sure it’s in basic working order. And in the back of my mind one goal looms, still cloudy and unattainable as yet: to make my place easy to watch over should Elihu and I go out of town. We really hope to – and have for these past three years, but it has been our feathery charges which have blocked our escape. If I can make it easy to feed and water them, to get them in at night, then I can hire someone to do so. I need the girls to stay put for this to work! I am fueled by the vision of everything in perfect working order. There is no going back to bed for me.

 

Dead Hen June 5, 2012

I guess it’s a little easier now than it was in the beginning. But it still feels kinda crappy to see a little creature that you’ve nurtured from birth, lying ripped open and dead on the ground.

Yesterday, Elihu and I took a walk down the hill to our garden to check on things when he spied a form in the tall grass. “Mommy, there’s dead chicken here!” he told me. I was surprised, and not. The chickens, for some reason, don’t often venture down the hill to this spot; the only times I’ve known them to come down here is when they’re following me. Even Max doesn’t bother with the garden. (He does, however, become a threat to the young plants when he carelessly tramples over them with his big, webbed feet as he waddles along after me.) I came to look and saw that it was one of our dark red girls. Who? I don’t know. It’s most often the head and comb shape that tells us, and the head on this girl was missing. And honestly, even after having had them for two years now, I can’t always tell the dark red ones apart. A couple stand out, but for the most part they’re just red hens. I’m relieved to see it’s not Thumbs Up or Madeline or Shirley Nelson, but nonetheless I’m sad to think that this little gal, who’d made it through two winters and all the many nighttime attacks on the coop, had finally met her end.

The question we chicken farmers always consider first is ‘who did it’? But in the end, there’s never a definitive answer. One can speculate all day – and indeed, one can spend hours online in various chicken chat rooms discovering all sorts of anecdotal evidence that ends up telling us everything and, well, nothing. Raccoon, weasel, fisher, hawk, fox. All equally possible. All may well take off the head. All may well leave the prey and return for it later. Just yesterday Elihu had told me there were two young hawks outside talking to each other. I’d thought they were probably just blue jays – but as usual, he was right. We looked up to see some juvenile red tails circling above our yard and immediately made sure our flock was close to the coop for safety. So it might have been one of them. But really, there is no sure safety for a free-range flock. You do what you can, keep your ears open and use common sense, but ultimately there will always be a missing hen at some point.

I picked up the headless hen and saw her breast flayed open; I recognized the pink flesh – it looked just like the chicken breasts I cooked for supper nearly every night. I wondered to myself why the animal hadn’t eaten the meat. Seemed a waste.  She was still flexible, so we guessed she had been gotten fairly recently. That she should not go to waste, I flung her body over the steep edge of the hill into the brush for some lucky animal of the forest to come and finish.

Ironically, that night we had chicken for supper.

 

Frogs’ Legs and Helicopters May 4, 2012

A week has nearly elapsed since Elihu’s ninth birthday and the whole week has been a veritable whirlwind. Right now we two are still straddling two worlds; Elihu attends Waldorf, yet tomorrow he will and I will be performing at his former school’s talent show. I have had my hands full running the production and haven’t had a moment to spare. After a too-late bedtime I sit, sleepy at my computer, wondering how possibly to catch up.

His proper birthday was last Saturday. The birthday angel had left some lovely gifts as he slept, and he awoke to a kitchen table filled with flying contraptions, plus a few bird-related items for good measure. (This month the bills will have to wait, our priorities were elsewhere.) What a lovely day it was, sunny and just warm enough to try a few outdoor flights. With so many new toys to become familiar with, the day was passed with me sleepily watching him from the couch as he learned the intricacies of each one. A couple of our chicks hatched that day too, which added to the delight of the day. The soundtrack of that afternoon was the constant peeping of the baby chicks and the whirring of helicopter blades.

That evening we went to dinner at the local favorite restaurant called “The Wishing Well”. It was where we’d eaten the past year on his birthday, and although mom sponsored our trip there, she did not join us as the place is quite pricey and the tab might have been a bit too severe for all five of us Conants. It was a night I will always remember. As we sat at the low tables in the bar area listening to the piano player, we had drinks and he opened just a few special gifts I’d reserved for the occasion. When the waitress came to take our drink order Elihu told me to ‘go ahead and get something special’ and so I did. I enjoyed my first martini in several years (gin, straight up with olives thank you). He had taken such pride in dressing and looked to me as handsome as ever. I too had dressed up, and the two of us felt very good indeed as we sat in comfy leather chairs beneath the giant head of a taxidermed moose above the fireplace.

Elihu’s first gift was a lovely field guide of the birds of Europe and England – accompanied by some tasty caramels – sent by his sister, Brigitta, who lives outside of London. He entertained me by testing my knowledge of the birds. He covered up the names and smiled ear-to-ear as he watched me struggling for the name. He knew nearly every bird in that book. He laughed when I asked how that was possible. “I’ve been reading about them since I was four!” he laughed. Then I presented my own gifts to him. I watched as he opened the first, amazed that by the shape alone he hadn’t been able to figure out what they were. When he saw his very first, professional pair of brushes, he lit up. I have never heard that tone of his voice before as he thanked me ‘so much’. He was thrilled that he could finally “play like the real jazz drummers”! Immediately he took them out, opened up the metal fans and began playing on the table. “Like this?” he asked, as he practiced a circular movement. There wasn’t much room for me to improve on his intuitive technique; as he played he got the idea very naturally. After a bit I had to ask him to hold back, as it might be distracting to the table next to us. Thankfully he is still young enough (and yes, cute enough) that he’s easily forgiven. Plus he was actually playing along with the pianist and sounded pretty good. Our table in the dining room was still occupied and so the manager began to bring us little complimentary treats to help pass the time. First it was some asparagus and corn soup. Elihu loved it. I was so pleased to see him taste it – often he’ll pass on soup – but as it was his birthday and he was quite earnest about being grown up, he did what was polite. Turned out he dug it. As he did the escargot that followed. In fact, he like them so well I gave him my share. A sampling of crab meat then arrived just before I offered him my second gift; a treasured CD of polkas we’d once enjoyed (but which now only frustratingly skipped over the first few tracks.) He was thrilled! What joy in this mother’s heart to see her son so fully happy. (And that martini made me happy too.)

We were shown to our table, which was in a far corner of the farmhouse-turned restaurant, and there was both a crackling fire and a wall of bookshelves behind us. He pulled out an ancient cloth-bound book on aviation and amused himself with that as we waited for his much-anticipated frogs’ legs. Dinner was not too long in arriving, and soon we were eating and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I had the soft shell crab, and treasured each bite. The meal was perfect. We bagged what was left of our mashed potatoes for our chickens back home, and after paying the bill as carelessly as if it were something I did every day, we gathered our things and headed out into the night.

The next day was Sunday, the day of his birthday party. To sum up the day, I might simply say it was “off the hook” and I believe you’ll get the idea. It was a day in which his two worlds came together; there were children from his old elementary school there along with new classmates and friends from Waldorf. As usual, we invited and encouraged siblings and parents to come and stay, so before long our tiny house was filled to the rafters with bodies of all sizes. The eggs in the incubator began peeping and cracking open as planned, yet in spite of all the plans I’d had for keeping on top of the presents, they flew open at a rate I could not keep up with. Water guns (pre-loaded) were the party favors, and before the cake was out kids were running in and out of doors and everywhere outside in a great chase. The trampoline was well beyond my ‘rule of 3’ capacity, but the many adults sitting close by didn’t seem to mind. Chickens were being chased, eggs were being collected, and yes, the drums in the basement – plus an electric guitar and my wurlitzer too – were being played. And all at the same time. Our neighbor showed up with his two week old baby, wife and other young daughter; they’d ridden over in their 1925 model T. Soon he was giving party guests rides around the field in his ancient car. The day was spirited, joyful chaos. As soon as I turned my attention to someone, I was shortly pulled in another direction. I finally managed to take one moment at the top of the steps to pause. I stood there by the kitchen door just looking out at it all in wonder. Wow. Such a contrast to the way things started for us here. To see this, you’d never know the darkness in which we’d lived for those first few years. This new life was simply miraculous.

That day we met many new friends. This week Elihu’s discovered that along with friends and their generosity comes the task of letter-writing. Since he is not given homework at Waldorf these days, his homework this week has been to write thank-you notes. Not a small task, but one he sees the value of. He is well aware how blessed he is to have so many people in his life, and he himself feels compelled to let his friends know that he appreciates them. Yes, Elihu is growing up. He’s growing up to be a good young man. I am so proud of him, I am so in love with him. I am a mother with a full heart.

He’s a good kid, and he’s one tired kid, too. Tomorrow his school will hold a May day celebration in the park, and tomorrow night he will be the rim shot guy at the talent show, hitting his snare and crash cymbal after all the corny jokes. And I’ve been told there will be a lot of them. One more long day, one more long night. Then our transition is underway in earnest.

Welcome Spring! Welcome new life! Another year, another year’s adventures await…

 

Joy, Loss and Choices April 23, 2012

Last night we visited Martha to report on Elihu’s first week of Waldorf. She herself was a supporter of his going there, and he was excited to sing “Simple Gifts” to her, as he’d learned it in his class and knew it to be her favorite song. I could now better explain why Martha’s farm had been named “A Place Just Right” from the lyrics of that song. As we turned into her driveway I slowed and pointed out the sign in front of the large farmhouse. He was pleased to now know from where it came. “What are those two clumps underneath the letters?” he asked. I told them they were clusters of grapes, they represented the vines that our friend Mike and Uncle Andrew had been planting in the fields there over the past few years (in anticipation of selling them to New York state winemakers.) We had a sweet visit, which ended with Elihu pooping out and laying on the floor, using hound dog Maisie’s tummy as a pillow. Uncle Andrew showed up to help Martha with her evening routine and after Elihu showed off his rubber band powered helicopter to my brother, we hugged Martha goodbye and set off for home.

It was a later night than we would have liked, as we tacked on a quick visit to my folks before going home and having a late supper. That’s the danger of a leisurely rising on the weekend; it’s a bit harder to get to back to a school night schedule. We were both glad that I’d cooked earlier, because dinner was quick and easy. Then it was off to bed, where we finished our book and then turned out the light.

This morning I awoke earlier than Elihu, and sleepily rose to attend to my chores. I thought since it had been a late night, I’d let him sleep a bit while I went to the cellar to feed and water the chicks. I guess I was too groggy to notice the absence of the now familiar and constant cheeping of the tiny guys, because the first thing I noticed that seemed different from usual was a glob of some unidentifiable substance on the concrete floor. Water? No. Pinkish, but gel-like. What was it? Then my heart stopped. No noise. Nothing. I knew before I even saw the three tiny mangled chicks on the floor what had happened. I’d opened the cellar door the afternoon before to let in some fresh air, but in our late night had forgotten to close it again. I’d remembered to close it every goddam day but yesterday. My heart sank to my toes. No matter how many times this happens, it’s always just heartbreaking.

I kept it to myself and tried to steer the morning away from chores. Usually Elihu would have run downstairs first thing to see his beloved chicks, but even he was moving a little slow this morning, so we had a mellow breakfast in the kitchen with the electric heater purring alongside us. I drove him to school where he ended up needing a quick session with the nebulizer in the school office (something his old school would never have allowed) before he went up to join his class. I returned home to clean up.

We’d had six baby chicks, but I could find only three. After I began to pay closer attention to the mess, I detected two other blood-stained sites where another pair had met their demise. At least that what it looked like – it was hard to tell for sure. I found three distinct pairs of feet, so I’m just guessing about the rest. One must have been carried off, for there was no evidence at all of the last chick. I tossed what was left of their bodies (the heads are almost always ripped off when they’re killed by wild animals) far into the woods to prevent my grown hens from snacking on the bodies. Why did this matter to me? I wondered to myself. Protein is protein. I was returning them to the woods for some other critter to eat anyway. Silly the rules we make for ourselves, crazy the ways we assign meanings to things.

Last few days Elihu has been watching some pretty horrible and graphic films on Youtube about factory chicken farming. Originally I’d wanted to discourage him – I myself certainly couldn’t watch along side him – but in the end he’d said to me quite seriously that he had to know about this. He wanted to know the truth. I’ve been bringing up the conversation about us making a solid effort to be vegetarians for a long time now – in fact I myself hardly eat meat anymore. I love it, but I make it for Elihu alone. He knows this, and lately he’s been wrestling with it. Facebook is full of ‘shares’ showing graphic images of the factory farming industry. It’s a discussion that is unavoidable in my immediate world. And my son is just beginning to think more deeply about this himself, and I’m glad to know it. We’ve also discussed the possibility of eating only the chickens that we ourselves raise. I point out to him that in most parts of the world, meat is not consumed as it is here; people eat far less of it as it’s not so cheap and abundant in other places as it is here. I tell him that part of the reason we’re used to eating so much meat here in America is because it’s affordable for us. Why? Precisely because of the brutal factory-raising of these creatures. It’s possible for us westerners to eat meat in large quantities specifically because of the inhumanity with which we raise these animals. Elihu is deeply conflicted. He loves meat. He really does. Must be something to the blood-type thing, I don’t know. But he seems to crave it. I love meat too, but can go weeks without it. Not Elihu. And so he is beginning to grapple with this. His thinking has essentially come to this: if we do not eat meat in a respectful and grateful way (offering prayers of thanks to the animal for her life before we eat) then we are simply letting the animal be consumed by less thoughtful, less thankful people. Essentially, she will have lived and died this horrible life in vain because there was no one to appreciate her life, no one to redeem this horrible event. I get it. And he means it. He’s not trying to create a weak justification for eating meat. I know what he means. But still.

Just now my work was interrupted by a sound I know well. I can often hear the chirping of my hens just outside the basement windows, but they’re never this loud. Besides, it’s raining out today, and even if they were just outside I wouldn’t hear them like this. I stop and listen. That’s a chirping sound – I know that sound! That’s not a grown chicken, that’s the sound of a chick! But now? After hours of silence? I’ve been in my office over an hour and have heard nothing. Could it possibly be?

In a word, yes. Somehow this little creature managed to escape the attack. It had had the sense to hide, to quiet itself, to wait until the danger had passed. And upon seeing me, it came directly towards me, peeping its hunger, its fear, its relief. How lucky this tiny bird was – is – for it is perched upon my shoulder, quiet now after some food and drink. I marvel at how this creature seems to understand that I will give it safety, that it needn’t fear me. Amazing. I don’t want to anthropomorphize this little chick – it’s obviously nothing personal that it has found comfort with me – but nonetheless there is something very touching, very moving about its show of trust. I feel a sense of connection with this creature.

Wouldn’t you know – I began to hear another cheeping sound. I searched in vain for a good half hour as I simply could not pinpoint the location of the second lost bird. Finally I asked a friend to come over and help me look. After more searching, and even giving consideration to making a hole in a wall to see if it hadn’t somehow become trapped inside, another chick suddenly emerged from behind the shelf on which my LPs were stored. Wow. Once the two chicks were reunited, all peeping ceased. So that’s some relief. Two little ones remain. Although Elihu has weathered this kind of loss before without even shedding a tear, I’d feared today’s loss might hit him harder. Something just told me there’d be tears of heartbreak today. There may yet be, but having these two survivors somehow softens the loss. And it has me even more conflicted about continuing to turn a blind eye to the horrors of treating animals as if they had no feelings. Chickens experience pain and fear. They also experience peace and comfort. This I know.

the first survivor emerges

The first survivor emerges…

The chick takes a rest…

and peeps to its lost sibling…

Finally, the two survivors are reunited.